Definition of Free Will

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induction
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby induction » Fri Oct 12, 2012 2:52 pm UTC

Technical Ben wrote:Um. Well, when you point at someone and say "you choose", we have a nice supposition that you believe a "you", or "person" exists and that they can "choose". Say, if I ask a person "do you like fish or chicken", I have supposed they have an ability to choose free from me. Else I'd not give them that choice, I'd tell them to like chicken or fish. If I believed in determinism I can say "you will choose chicken" or if I believed in randomness I'd say "random actions will choose chicken". So while it's fine to change your supposition, you would have to carry it through to the rest of your expressions and worldview. I'm not sure you'd welcome that, would you?

It might be a limit to our example, it's got limited data. But, as our example is limited, the assumption of free will fits. The person "chose freely to each chicken". We can suppose chemical or historical causes, but they are just suppositions. In absence of specific proofs and data, we are left with the assumption "nether determining or random", but "the system described is the system that chose". Or, "free will", a freely acting system of choice.

If we take your option and "throw free will out the window", neither of those questions get asked, and both people sit there not eating, being unable to "choose". "Free will" is just our way of expressing our belief that the ability to make a choice exists separate (thus free) from another system we are describing. Without it, such statements as "choice" make no sense in context.

If I program a computer with all inputs known, I don't then tell it to "choose to output 1 or 0", because I prepared it to output already. It makes no choice, it follows a determined action. If I ever ask it to "choose", I am supposing the ability to choose is not from me, but from it. It would be "free to choose" in this context from me. AFAIK it would not have "will", so it does not count as a person yet. But I'd not look to decide what will or people are, or if we can make robotic ones. That's not within my grasp of knowledge. Either way, if we programed them previously, asking for a choice is not a sensible thing.

So, we either ask people to choose, and presume free will or stop asking people and presume no ability to choose.

You can remove free will from your worldview, you however do have to remove the concept of choosing in all instances though AFIAK. We can't just gloss over the differences it would imply to the observations we make or we predict. :P


The whole point of the free will discussion is that we appear to behave as individuals and make our own choices, but upon closer inspection we seem to find that this doesn't seem to be logically possible. In other words, so much is going on behind the scenes of our 'choices' that is independent of us, that the whole idea of free choice seems to be an illusion. This means that words fail to fully capture what is occurring when we make a 'choice'. This is not surprising, as words (in natural languages at least) are fairly blunt instruments. They all refer to more than one thing and rarely allow for the level of precision that deductive logic requires. When we ask someone to make a choice, we are using the word in a slightly different way when we ponder whether their choice was determined, random, or 'other' (I can't see any other possibilities, but since you insist). You can simply decide that people should all stick to the intuitive meaning of 'choice', but that amounts to asking them not to consider the philosophical implications of causation. In your statements above, you seem to be simply refusing to acknowledge that what seems obviously true can sometimes be an illusion. 'Does free will exist' is not a practical question, it's a philosophical one, and the practical solution you suggest doesn't address it. Ignoring a question doesn't make it disappear.

Edit:
But asking for a definition of choice that is compatible with determinism is ok, unless the definition of choice is also free will, not because it's wrong, but because we defined 2 contrary assumptions in our question. We live with contrary assumptions all the time, they are not problems, just shortcuts to answers.

Like, "explain to me how a deterministic universe can be random" is a wrong statement, as is "explain to me how a random universe is deterministic". By definition, assuming one or the other, rules out our second assumption from being possible. But we cannot conclude from this that either is impossible in a physical universe, because both random systems and determined systems are possible in this universe. So, if randomness or determinism also contradicts any other system, this does not rule out the possibility of that system existing or functioning or being described.

Likewise, it's not required that choice is a deterministic process. It's not required that it's random. It's just an assumption that there is a process we call "choice" just as determinism is an assumption there is a process we call "a model always producing the same output". We call randomness "a model producing a probabilistic output".

Perhaps we would then have choice or free will which would be "a model producing it's own output" or "a model producing an undefined output"? Would that work?


This discussion does not occur in a vacuum. We don't define two contrary assumptions, we make observations about the world which appear to be incompatible with each other. Free will seems to be incompatible with any known mechanism of causation. What we intuitively call 'free choice' seems to be nothing but an illusion. This doesn't necessarily mean we'll stop using the word any more than we stopped using Newtonian mechanics when Einstein and QM came along.

Defining free will as 'a model producing its own output' just pushes the question back to the definition of 'its own' unless the model is not causally connected to the rest of the universe, making it something we can never observe or interact with. Otherwise, this seems to be the same thing as defining free will as 'godhood'.

I'm afraid I don't know what 'a model producing an undefined output' means.

Edit again: grammar
Last edited by induction on Fri Oct 12, 2012 3:12 pm UTC, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Fri Oct 12, 2012 3:01 pm UTC

@Technical Ben:

Choice "is" not free will. They are different concepts.
In fact, "choice" does not need the concept of "free will" or a decision about whether the universe is deterministic or not to be defined.

Let me reiterate:
choice is the conscious part of the process by which an individual converts outside information into one action or another

- Choice is a process
- It takes place within an individual's mind
- It is conscious
- It takes external information as its input
- It results into a course of action
- Other, unconscious elements have an impact on which action is chosen

Tell me, please: which part do you disagree with? What element would you add, if you find it incomplete? Maybe you want to add something to the input part? I guess some would add "the soul", but those guys already believe in free will so they shouldn't be concerned with our conversation. "Quantum entanglement" would merely be part of it, and add an element of unpredictability without making the individual more or less "free". Then what else??
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:17 pm UTC

a couple of corrections

- Choice is a process .... with more than one possible outcome
- It takes place within an individual's mind
- It is conscious... there is no consciousness without choice, just post facto justification - computers aren't conscious.
- It takes external information as its input
- It results into a course of action
- Other, unconscious elements have an impact on which action is chosen - see above there is no such thing as an unconscious sub-routine

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby jules.LT » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:35 pm UTC

What does the number of possible outcomes have to do with what a choice is?

You might prefer the wikipedia definition (which I find surprisingly close to mine):
"Choice consists of the mental process of judging the merits of multiple options and selecting one or more of them."
No mention of how many outcomes are possible, you see? Only what a choice is.

As for your comments on consciousness, I don't understand what relation they bear to a definition of "choice". Care to clarify?
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:55 pm UTC

because no options = no choice

2 or more options = choice

the wikipedia definition in using the term "option" means that its poles apart from yours

Consciousness like free will is another concept that just doesn't exist in a deterministic universe, we are just computers responding to inputs and consciousness is an illusion just like free wil :)

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby induction » Fri Oct 12, 2012 5:24 pm UTC

leady wrote:Consciousness like free will is another concept that just doesn't exist in a deterministic universe, we are just computers responding to inputs and consciousness is an illusion just like free wil :)


Saying consciousness is an illusion is different from saying it doesn't exist. I observe my consciousness existing empirically. I wouldn't call that a proof that the universe is not deterministic as your statement would imply.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Fri Oct 12, 2012 5:32 pm UTC

induction wrote:Saying consciousness is an illusion is different from saying it doesn't exist. I observe my consciousness existing empirically. I wouldn't call that a proof that the universe is not deterministic as your statement would imply.


No if you accept its an illusion you are absolutely accepting that it doesn't exist at least under the common definition.

I'm not arguing that the universe isn't deterministic, i'm just pointing out the consequences of a classically deterministic universe. I fully realise why people resist these, because they both feel wrong and generate horrible nihilistic worldviews.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Fri Oct 12, 2012 6:01 pm UTC

leady wrote:I'm not arguing that the universe isn't deterministic, i'm just pointing out the consequences of a classically deterministic universe. I fully realise why people resist these, because they both feel wrong and generate horrible nihilistic worldviews.

Determinism just means that we can theoretically predict a single outcome. But non-determinism doesn't mean there's more than one possible future, it just means we can't predict it with perfect precision. So really your argument boils down to is that if there's only one future--regardless of determinism or not--then there is no choice. But I claim that if we have no possibility of accessing that perfect future knowledge, then it's completely irrelevant. It's just a theoretical invention. There's no need to take it into account when coming up with notions like choice.

So I think it makes more sense to recognize that the notion of choice is inherently grounded in our own reality of limited future knowledge. And in that case--again, regardless of determinism or not--there are real situations with more than one possible outcome.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby induction » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:12 pm UTC

leady wrote:
induction wrote:Saying consciousness is an illusion is different from saying it doesn't exist. I observe my consciousness existing empirically. I wouldn't call that a proof that the universe is not deterministic as your statement would imply.


No if you accept its an illusion you are absolutely accepting that it doesn't exist at least under the common definition.

I'm not arguing that the universe isn't deterministic, i'm just pointing out the consequences of a classically deterministic universe. I fully realise why people resist these, because they both feel wrong and generate horrible nihilistic worldviews.


By the common definition, do you mean 'the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself'? This is what I consider to be the most common definition, and it in no way precludes determinism. My consciousness is empirically evident to me, and I also accept that it is absolutely an illusion, whether the universe is deterministic or not. But it is also the only thing that I can say with absolute certainty does exist. The depiction of reality that my consciousness shows me not be accurate (for some definition of accuracy), but consciousness can't be an illusion if it doesn't exist. I think I must be confused about what you're saying.

Horribly nihilistic worldviews are neither required by nor restricted to people who believe in determinism, but I agree that that's one possible outcome.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:21 pm UTC

Instead of saying consciousness is an illusion, would it be better to call it an abstraction? Or perhaps an emergent property? It's only an illusion if it seems like something that it isn't.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:27 pm UTC

leady wrote:because no options = no choice

Who said we have no options? Today I had the option of having pasta for lunch or having soup (I was too full to have both). Even if it was determined by the laws of physics, given the state of the universe at the dawn of time (or even the dawn of today), that I would choose soup, that doesn't mean that pasta wasn't an option.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby induction » Fri Oct 12, 2012 7:28 pm UTC

guenther wrote:Instead of saying consciousness is an illusion, would it be better to call it an abstraction? Or perhaps an emergent property? It's only an illusion if it seems like something that it isn't.

That's fair. Definitions are so tricky. 'Consciousness' can refer to the awareness, or the subject of the awareness. So can 'illusion' for that matter. But both awareness and its subject could exist in a deterministic universe, though. So I guess I'm still missing something.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:04 pm UTC

guenther wrote:Determinism just means that we can theoretically predict a single outcome. But non-determinism doesn't mean there's more than one possible future, it just means we can't predict it with perfect precision. So really your argument boils down to is that if there's only one future--regardless of determinism or not--then there is no choice. But I claim that if we have no possibility of accessing that perfect future knowledge, then it's completely irrelevant. It's just a theoretical invention. There's no need to take it into account when coming up with notions like choice.

So I think it makes more sense to recognize that the notion of choice is inherently grounded in our own reality of limited future knowledge. And in that case--again, regardless of determinism or not--there are real situations with more than one possible outcome.


Oh don't get me wrong our biological meat suits not being able to process the outcome, makes the world seem exciting and changeable, but fundamentally it wouldn't be :)

But the are no real situations in a deterministic universe with multiple outcomes by definition.

We are complex rocks

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
leady wrote:because no options = no choice

Who said we have no options? Today I had the option of having pasta for lunch or having soup (I was too full to have both). Even if it was determined by the laws of physics, given the state of the universe at the dawn of time (or even the dawn of today), that I would choose soup, that doesn't mean that pasta wasn't an option.


It absolutely means pasta was never an option any more than the earth has an option to not revolve around the sun


induction wrote:
guenther wrote:Instead of saying consciousness is an illusion, would it be better to call it an abstraction? Or perhaps an emergent property? It's only an illusion if it seems like something that it isn't.

That's fair. Definitions are so tricky. 'Consciousness' can refer to the awareness, or the subject of the awareness. So can 'illusion' for that matter. But both awareness and its subject could exist in a deterministic universe, though. So I guess I'm still missing something.


A rock cannot be aware, awareness is an illusion under determinism because the self is a meaningless concept at a fundamental level - you are a rock. I know its a headf**k, buts the way it is if you are in a deterministic universe.

Now people don't think they are rocks, so thats not a practical thing to worry about, but its no less true.

Hell I'm not even in a determinist or rather just to screw with the universe I choose not to be - this rock is rebelling :)

Take a look around. Notice how everyone else only post once at a time? Do that. Not this multiple incidents of three in a row.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:12 pm UTC

leady wrote:But the are no real situations in a deterministic universe with multiple outcomes by definition.

But as far as we can tell, random events have one outcome as well.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:17 pm UTC

leady wrote:It absolutely means pasta was never an option any more than the earth has an option to not revolve around the sun

You must have some weird view of what it means for something to be an option. Like how some people have a weird view of what it is to be Scottish.

leady wrote:awareness is an illusion under determinism because the self is a meaningless concept at a fundamental level - you are a rock.

None of these inferences follow: determinism does not imply that you are "a rock," which does not imply that "the self is a meaningless concept at a
fundamental level," which does not imply that awareness is an illusion.

You throw the word "because" around like it's inferential superglue.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby induction » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:21 pm UTC

leady wrote:A rock cannot be aware, awareness is an illusion under determinism because the self is a meaningless concept at a fundamental level - you are a rock. I know its a headf**k, buts the way it is if you are in a deterministic universe.


But I am aware. I think you're stretching your rock metaphor too far. There's a big qualitative difference between a biological organism and an inert aggregate of minerals. My sense impressions may or may not supply truth, but I do have them.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby XTCamus » Fri Oct 12, 2012 8:58 pm UTC

induction wrote:
guenther wrote:Instead of saying consciousness is an illusion, would it be better to call it an abstraction? Or perhaps an emergent property? It's only an illusion if it seems like something that it isn't.

That's fair. Definitions are so tricky. 'Consciousness' can refer to the awareness, or the subject of the awareness. So can 'illusion' for that matter. But both awareness and its subject could exist in a deterministic universe, though. So I guess I'm still missing something.

I was about to jump in to say that definitions can be tricky to the point of infinite regress if we say that in order to define 'free will' we first have to define 'consciousness', but then we define conciousness using the word 'aware'.... at which point I begin to doubt that defining awareness is going to get us any closer to answering the OP's question.

But by induction's "'Consciousness' can refer to the awareness, or the subject of the awareness." is a good point, as people do often use the term in both ways. But the counter-argument here is to realize that the subject of the awareness is simply the person, consciousness is not a thing which itself is aware. Consciousness exists to the extent that consciously aware beings exist, but thinking (or defining) it so that it implies a "ghost in the machine" could be where the illusion lies. So I would also prefer to see 'consciousness' and 'free will' definitions that avoid this by including (or at least not excluding) the idea of each as emergent properties of biological machines.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby leady » Fri Oct 12, 2012 10:58 pm UTC

guenther wrote:
leady wrote:But the are no real situations in a deterministic universe with multiple outcomes by definition.

But as far as we can tell, random events have one outcome as well.


Any universe that has random events is not classically deterministic, because deterministic means you can determine the outcome, not predict based on probability

as an aside I accept the world is random and probabilistic in reality

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:
leady wrote:It absolutely means pasta was never an option any more than the earth has an option to not revolve around the sun

You must have some weird view of what it means for something to be an option. Like how some people have a weird view of what it is to be Scottish.

leady wrote:awareness is an illusion under determinism because the self is a meaningless concept at a fundamental level - you are a rock.

None of these inferences follow: determinism does not imply that you are "a rock," which does not imply that "the self is a meaningless concept at a
fundamental level," which does not imply that awareness is an illusion.

You throw the word "because" around like it's inferential superglue.


Trying a different approach would you ever consider a 80486 25Mhz based computer anymore conscious or self aware than a rock?

How about a P2? is that more conscious

How about a P3

surely a quad core is conscious? etc etc unto infinity

induction wrote:
leady wrote:A rock cannot be aware, awareness is an illusion under determinism because the self is a meaningless concept at a fundamental level - you are a rock. I know its a headf**k, buts the way it is if you are in a deterministic universe.


But I am aware. I think you're stretching your rock metaphor too far. There's a big qualitative difference between a biological organism and an inert aggregate of minerals. My sense impressions may or may not supply truth, but I do have them.


Your sense impressions at a fundamental physical level in a deterministic universe are 100% truth, your crappy physical processing eyes/ noise/ taste buds + brain screw it up

A rock can be said to sense and act on gravity in an identical manner - its not a metaphor.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:07 pm UTC

leady, no, there is probably not a clear delineation between conscious objects and non-conscious objects. This does not mean that consciousness does not exist. It means that it is gradual, and that the term "conscious" is in the technical sense vague.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby PeteP » Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:12 pm UTC

That aside the software on it, not the speed would be the important factor. By increasing the speed it won't suddenly become conscious.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Fri Oct 12, 2012 11:44 pm UTC

leady wrote:
guenther wrote:
leady wrote:But the are no real situations in a deterministic universe with multiple outcomes by definition.

But as far as we can tell, random events have one outcome as well.

Any universe that has random events is not classically deterministic, because deterministic means you can determine the outcome, not predict based on probability

I get this. But my point is that even with random events, only one outcome will happen. We say there are multiple possible answers because of an inherent limitation in our ability to perfectly predict. But afterwards, we can look and see what happened. And in fact, we can invent a hypothetical person with a time machine that can tell us with perfect certainty which one will occur. And with this information, we now know that there's only one possible outcome. Therefore, even with non-determinism, choice is impossible.

To eliminate choice in the deterministic case, we also require the invention of a hypothetical person, one that has perfect information and infinite computational ability. But there's no theory that let's this person actually exist in reality. Why should we hinge out notion of choice on this?

In reality, there will always be uncertainty regardless of whether the universe is deterministic or not. When faced with uncertainty, we can make claims of what can happen; we can list out the possible outcomes. So when we ground these notions in our reality--one with imperfect knowledge--the notion of choice becomes possible, and in fact it becomes a good abstraction for much of the behavior we observe.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby induction » Sat Oct 13, 2012 5:07 am UTC

leady wrote:you are a rock.
...
its not a metaphor.


You have no respect for geology.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Sat Oct 13, 2012 8:23 am UTC

I merely meant to point out that choice can be either random or deterministic (at the very least) in it's method of application. Would you agree? As "choice" covers both, but we have contrary assumptions (random/determinism) that do not work well together with models, we use "free will" as a description for a system where we don't know if we are working with a deterministic or not model. It's just "unknown".
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby XTCamus » Sat Oct 13, 2012 10:39 pm UTC

Either define free will as something that could at least theoretically be testable, something that could be confirmed as either there or not, whether we are talking about humans or robots, or else it is all a matter of taste and it doesn't matter how you define it.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Sat Oct 13, 2012 11:13 pm UTC

leady wrote:A rock can be said to sense and act on gravity in an identical manner - its not a metaphor.
Rocks are rocks. They respond to their environment in one of two ways: Continue to be a rock, or cease being a rock.

Life is life. Life responds to its environment in one of three ways: Continue to be life, cease being life, or turn its environment into more life. And that's where things get interesting. Rocks do not perpetuate themselves--but life does.

Life can make more life. We call this process 'agency', because it is fundamentally obvious that something very different is going on when life 'responds' to its environment than when a rock 'responds' to its environment. Because life's response actually has a chance to produce more life. Life increases life. Rocks do not increase rocks. However a rock responds, it will not produce more rock (unless you smash it, but then you don't have more rock; you've just split your existing rock into many smaller rocks).

The sophistication of this 'agency' mechanism is how we define consciousness and 'free will'. Whatever this thing is, we know rocks don't have it--because a rock can never 'choose' to make more rock. We know humans have it--because a human can 'choose' to make more humans, or 'choose' not to. We're not sure tapeworms have it--because tapeworms can only 'choose' to make more tapeworms. They really can't 'choose' not to make tapeworms.

Also: Rocks are rocks. Life is life. We know there's a difference, because we can tell the difference. Being unable to explain what that difference is does not mean that the difference is not real. And arguing that there is no difference only works if your starting premise is deranged.

EDIT: Think of it like this. There are no cases where a rock could turn everything in the universe into rocks. This is impossible. But we could imagine a case where life could turn everything in the universe into life (imagine a universe where every single molecule is now part of some organism! Aka the Zerg! Weird, but we accept it is possible, albeit incredibly unlikely). This is why rocks are rocks and life is life; because life can, by definition, turn its environment into part of itself.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby elasto » Sat Oct 13, 2012 11:44 pm UTC

There are things in nature that come close, though. A crystal in the right solution can reproduce. A forest fire can release sparks that create new forest fires. You say life is special in that it could conceivably turn the whole universe into itself, but a black hole could conceivably turn the whole universe into itself too.

I wouldn't argue the key difference between humans and other things is that humans can choose to make or not make other humans - because perhaps we are really just as mechanical and deterministic in that regard as a forest fire. I think the key difference is that we are somehow self-aware (and, as part of that self-awareness, we have the necessary illusion that we have free will).

I find it extremely hard to see how a computer program perfectly emulating the neurons of a human brain (say my brain) wouldn't be conscious, and yet at the same time it would clearly be deterministic, therefore I conclude that I too am deterministic.

It's an interesting era we are entering. With luck some of these questions may well get resolved within my lifetime.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Sat Oct 13, 2012 11:49 pm UTC

elasto wrote:There are things in nature that come close, though. A crystal in the right solution can reproduce. A forest fire can release sparks that create new forest fires. You say life is special in that it could conceivably turn the whole universe into itself, but a black hole could conceivably turn the whole universe into itself too.
Very true, and a fair point! One important distinction I would add, then: Life perpetuates life that is better at perpetuating life.

EDIT: And the ability to not perpetuate humans only demonstrates one function of our agency; it's a way of proving agency exists, and noting the difference between our type of agency and a tapeworm's agency. Tapeworms cannot choose to not make tapeworms. Humans can choose to not make humans. Humans, therefore, have greater agency than tapeworms.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Sun Oct 14, 2012 8:18 am UTC

XTCamus wrote:Either define free will as something that could at least theoretically be testable, something that could be confirmed as either there or not, whether we are talking about humans or robots, or else it is all a matter of taste and it doesn't matter how you define it.


Not all definitions work that way. But some are descriptors, not predictors. So an "unknown system of choice in relation to a person" would be "free will" to me. How to test for it? Check if the tester has full knowledge of the system a person uses to make a choice. If no, they are assumed to have free will. If yes, they are assumed to not have free will. If we have knowledge of part of the system used to make a choice, we assume no free will was applicable to that part of the system of choice. The parts we have zero knowledge on, we assume acted as however they act (it's unknown, we cannot make a statement on it).

TGH, I did not realize you do make a distinction between people and animals. That helps me understand others view a bit better. I'd agree on the "free will" not applying to animals as far as we can see. As far as I know, most people don't talk of plants or fish as "having free will". I've not heard people call it an aspect of "life" but an aspect of "people". Either as a self evident "I think so for I am" conclusion that they must find out more about themselves, because the observe themselves to exist (they do not observe the thoughts of plants or fish, so we can skip those not knowing how they think :P ). Or as some aspect of "self awareness" or intelligence. Not that it is part of those things, but that we observe correlation, so are taking pot shots to see if anything sticks.

elasto wrote:
Spoiler:
There are things in nature that come close, though. A crystal in the right solution can reproduce. A forest fire can release sparks that create new forest fires. You say life is special in that it could conceivably turn the whole universe into itself, but a black hole could conceivably turn the whole universe into itself too.


I wouldn't argue the key difference between humans and other things is that humans can choose to make or not make other humans - because perhaps we are really just as mechanical and deterministic in that regard as a forest fire. I think the key difference is that we are somehow self-aware (and, as part of that self-awareness, we have the necessary illusion that we have free will).

I find it extremely hard to see how a computer program perfectly emulating the neurons of a human brain (say my brain) wouldn't be conscious, and yet at the same time it would clearly be deterministic, therefore I conclude that I too am deterministic.
Spoiler:
It's an interesting era we are entering. With luck some of these questions may well get resolved within my lifetime.


The key here is you say "perhaps". Without 100% certainty (yes, that's rather hard, may be impossible, that is the point) we are deterministic or random, we have to conclude "we do not know to a sufficient degree". So we call this system we don't know "free" as a system, to distinguish it from a defined system. The reference of "choice" we call "will" as it's applied to a person thus easier to distinguish between something like a rock where we do have close to 100% certainty of it's system. Which leaves us with "free will", would you agree?

I can't really go and tell the government I am not paying any bills because tomorrow "perhaps" or "supposedly" or "could possibly" not arrive. I have to assume it will. Likewise I have to assume I have an effect on a choice made, until I know I have zero effect. For example I know I have zero effect on if tomorrow comes. I have more than zero effect on what time I wake up tomorrow.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby elasto » Sun Oct 14, 2012 11:24 am UTC

Technical Ben wrote:The key here is you say "perhaps". Without 100% certainty (yes, that's rather hard, may be impossible, that is the point) we are deterministic or random, we have to conclude "we do not know to a sufficient degree". So we call this system we don't know "free" as a system, to distinguish it from a defined system. The reference of "choice" we call "will" as it's applied to a person thus easier to distinguish between something like a rock where we do have close to 100% certainty of it's system. Which leaves us with "free will", would you agree?

I disagree. We know how a single neuron in a hormonal environment works to the same accuracy that we know how a piece of rocks works. Add more and more neurons until you have a full brain and there's no need or even possibility for any non-determinism to creep in - any more than a million line computer program could be less deterministic than a one line computer program. Interesting emergent properties may arise, like consciousness, but that doesn't change whether the process as a whole is deterministic.

I can't really go and tell the government I am not paying any bills because tomorrow "perhaps" or "supposedly" or "could possibly" not arrive. I have to assume it will. Likewise I have to assume I have an effect on a choice made, until I know I have zero effect. For example I know I have zero effect on if tomorrow comes. I have more than zero effect on what time I wake up tomorrow.

If you were to claim 'My conscious decision-making process has no effect on whether I pay taxes or what time I get up tomorrow' you'd be quite mistaken! Your conscious ponderences absolutely and fundamentally do have an effect on these things! All that a lack of true free will really means is that your decisions aren't made non-deterministically: Given the same history of sensory input and the same starting brain state you'd come to the same decision.

Your conscious decision-making process exists within the universe, not outside of it - and is a wonderful, amazing, but ultimately wholly emergent property of a set of simple physical laws.

Edit: Let me attempt to succinctly describe it thus: The paradox can perhaps be better unraveled by splitting what's going on into two parts:

(a) We do what we consciously choose to do. If I choose to raise my arm then I raise my arm. If I don't then I don't. This is what gives rise to the useful working model that we have free will.
(b) What we consciously choose to do is an entirely deterministic result of our current brain state - with that completely determined by what went before it*.

The result is that in any situation we could only have chosen to do what we chose to do. But that's not so terrible, is it? We still chose what to do. (a) is no less true given that (b) is true, in other words. And we still don't know what we're about to do until we choose to do it.

(*Introducing randomness eg. quantum effects into this doesn't help: Randomness isn't free will either - in some respects it's an even more unsettling thought than determinism!)

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Oct 14, 2012 3:27 pm UTC

As an aside, I just realized my new definition of life (life is something that perpetuates itself in a way that makes it better at perpetuating itself) probably qualifies black holes as life (the more a black hole 'eats', the more it expands; the more it expands, the more it can 'eat'). Which implies that my definition sucks.

But it gives me a really cool idea for a story in which black holes and evolution are diametrically opposed cosmological forces!

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Sun Oct 14, 2012 4:01 pm UTC

elasto wrote:I find it extremely hard to see how a computer program perfectly emulating the neurons of a human brain (say my brain) wouldn't be conscious, and yet at the same time it would clearly be deterministic, therefore I conclude that I too am deterministic.

It may be that we can't perfectly emulate the human brain with a deterministic computer. For example, the system may rely on random events, and if we model this with pseudo-random numbers, this may have some weird side effects that breaks the perfect emulation.

This wouldn't preclude a fully deterministic system from being well described as conscious, but it would mean a limit to how well we can emulate the human brain. By the way, I think our application of the term "conscious" to an artificial intelligence will be a matter of definition, not discovery. Or in other words, it will be the result of us deciding that the new entity is sufficiently aware (or whatever the criteria) that "conscious" becomes a good abstraction for how it behaves.

elasto wrote:I disagree. We know how a single neuron in a hormonal environment works to the same accuracy that we know how a piece of rocks works. Add more and more neurons until you have a full brain and there's no need or even possibility for any non-determinism to creep in - any more than a million line computer program could be less deterministic than a one line computer program. Interesting emergent properties may arise, like consciousness, but that doesn't change whether the process as a whole is deterministic.

As you keep adding neurons, you'll have different neural circuits that will compete with each other, and the winner will determine what we decide to do, what memory we recall, what association we see, what emotion surfaces, etc. (I heard this description of the human brain recently on a podcast, but I can't recall where at the moment.) When two different circuits of similar strength compete for control, the system becomes very sensitive to very small differences. In some cases, then sensitivity might be so great that quantum effects might bubble up to have a macro effect on our behavior. I don't recall anyone making this sort of discovery yet, but I don't think we can rule it out. My point is that to conclude that our brain is deterministic is premature.

In regards to free will, earlier I wrote how I don't think it depends at all on whether we (or the universe) are fundamentally deterministic or not. Nor do I think it depends on us not knowing if it's deterministic.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Oct 14, 2012 4:20 pm UTC

guenther wrote:In regards to free will, earlier I wrote how I don't think it depends at all on whether we (or the universe) are fundamentally deterministic or not. Nor do I think it depends on us not knowing if it's deterministic.
As another aside (I really like these! Can you tell?), here's a thought experiment I like to use to think about determinism:

Imagine the set that contains the universe (set A). Now, imagine the set of all attainable knowledge in the universe (set B).

B is a subset of A (this is definitional!). C is a subset of A that contains all elements of A that are not present in B (it is the difference between A and B). If C is empty, everything in the universe can be known, and is therefore determinable (that which is known must be determinable). If C has something in it, some things in the universe cannot be known, and therefore the universe is non-determinable.

Here's what I find interesting: The only way we know what's in C is by knowing what's in A. And, definitionally, we can never know what's in A; we can only know what's in B. Which means, definitionally, we can never know what's in C. Which means, definitionally, we can never determine if we are actually in a determinable universe. From our perspective, we will always appear to be in a determinable universe, because we can only determine what is determinable.

The only 'hint' we'd receive that we are not in a determinable universe is if we were to encounter phenomenon that we can never truly understand. That implies something might be in C. But we don't know for sure until we have all of set B, and having all of set B is tricky.

EDIT: You can apply this way of thinking to a lot of things; my favorite is understanding how we know things (and how we know what we know). A is a subject; B is what is known about that subject; C is what is unknown. As B increases, C decreases--but since we cannot know A (we can only know B), we can never know how much is left in C. C is always a blindspot. It is, in fact, a blindspot of indeterminable size. No matter how much you increase B, you never know for sure if there's anything left in C! You don't even know how big C is! Which is what makes C so dangerous.

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby lutzj » Sun Oct 14, 2012 10:19 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:As an aside, I just realized my new definition of life (life is something that perpetuates itself in a way that makes it better at perpetuating itself) probably qualifies black holes as life (the more a black hole 'eats', the more it expands; the more it expands, the more it can 'eat'). Which implies that my definition sucks.

But it gives me a really cool idea for a story in which black holes and evolution are diametrically opposed cosmological forces!


Your definition also works for crystals and fire, which makes it even better in my opinion.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Sun Oct 14, 2012 11:18 pm UTC

The Great Hippo wrote:Here's what I find interesting: The only way we know what's in C is by knowing what's in A. And, definitionally, we can never know what's in A; we can only know what's in B. Which means, definitionally, we can never know what's in C. Which means, definitionally, we can never determine if we are actually in a determinable universe.

This is just like in science how we can't ever prove anything. But in practice we can find some very reliable statements that can be regarded as truth for most practical purposes. I don't find it all that troubling, and I think there's a lot of people who feel likewise.

The Great Hippo wrote:From our perspective, we will always appear to be in a determinable universe, because we can only determine what is determinable.

If one of our most reliable models has non-determinism at it's core with no foreseeable way to eliminate this, does it mean we have a fundamentally non-deterministic universe? Well we can't prove it. But to many people our universe might appear non-deterministic. Of course others will think that there's a hidden determinism that we just haven't discovered yet. But my point is that the universe won't necessarily always appear determinable.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Oct 14, 2012 11:26 pm UTC

guenther wrote:If one of our most reliable models has non-determinism at it's core with no foreseeable way to eliminate this, does it mean we have a fundamentally non-deterministic universe? Well we can't prove it. But to many people our universe might appear non-deterministic. Of course others will think that there's a hidden determinism that we just haven't discovered yet. But my point is that the universe won't necessarily always appear determinable.
Keep in mind: There are no scientific models which are 100% determinable. We have no models that say X causes Y in all cases. So when you say 'one of our most reliable models has non-determinism at it's core', the natural response is 'none of our models have determinism at their core--they only attempt to get closer to determinism!'. I see no reason to assume that as we refine our models, we won't actually arrive at a determinable answer.

Determinism is perfect correlation (IE, it's not correlation at all; its causation).

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby guenther » Mon Oct 15, 2012 4:54 am UTC

What's non-deterministic about F=ma or the law of universal gravitation? If you know two objects, and know precisely where they are and what they're mass is, then the model will precisely predict the attractive force between them, the acceleration they experience, the path they take towards each other, and the time at which they collide.

Also, you keep using the word "determinable", so maybe we're talking about different things. I'm talking about determinism, and much of our scientific models are deterministic. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, all of classical physics (which includes relativity) is deterministic. It's quantum theory that adds in fundamentally non-deterministic elements to the model. And I'm no expert here, as I said before, but I haven't heard anyone in the field share your confidence that one day we'll arrive at an underlying deterministic QT model. I'm not ruing out this possibility, but my point is that clearly we don't always appear to be in a deterministic universe. That's really the main thing I'm objecting to.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Oct 15, 2012 8:17 am UTC

Yeah, there are quite a few QM mathematical proofs that it can't be deterministic.
Besides, the argument "oh, but randomness does not help because it is not free will" is not valid. Why? It's only an example of a black swan. It's a proof we can have non-deterministic choice methods (IE, a quantum RND in a pc, quantum effects changing our input, say we read what is typed on that pc).

So, while randomness is not a proof of free will, it is a proof that you cannot state "free will must be deterministic". We can only state it "a choice mechanism may or may not be deterministic". You could say it's "most probably deterministic". To me, I've not seen sufficient reason to believe that. An example of 1000 computers is not deterministic. There are things we cannot determine, like failure rate. If you setup your virtual 10000 braincells on a pc, and then what? One of the PSUs blows, one of the CPUs throws a floating point error from it's RAM (this happens). Then you've got a non-determined change to your system. Why? Because we are unable to determine the physical world to a sufficient degree to make those calls.

That's not an example of free will, it's an example of how foolish it is to assume anything in this universe can be determined to such a degree by us humans, that we say "it is determined in principle". :/
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby elasto » Mon Oct 15, 2012 9:14 am UTC

guenther wrote:
elasto wrote:I find it extremely hard to see how a computer program perfectly emulating the neurons of a human brain (say my brain) wouldn't be conscious, and yet at the same time it would clearly be deterministic, therefore I conclude that I too am deterministic.

It may be that we can't perfectly emulate the human brain with a deterministic computer. For example, the system may rely on random events, and if we model this with pseudo-random numbers, this may have some weird side effects that breaks the perfect emulation.

My statement was a shorthand. Randomness is worse than determinism - it means that your choices are without reason - which is worse than being determined but with good reason.

Anyhow, you can have true randomness in a computer if that's required, you just can't do it purely in software - you have to add in a hardware device. (Although some pseudo-random algorithms pass randomness tests so well it's hard for me to imagine why they'd fail to suffice, but I guess it's theoretically possible.)

This wouldn't preclude a fully deterministic system from being well described as conscious, but it would mean a limit to how well we can emulate the human brain. By the way, I think our application of the term "conscious" to an artificial intelligence will be a matter of definition, not discovery. Or in other words, it will be the result of us deciding that the new entity is sufficiently aware (or whatever the criteria) that "conscious" becomes a good abstraction for how it behaves.

I agree that if a computer program behaves in a way indistinguishable from a conscious person we might as well presume it's conscious as a useful working model, but my hunch is we'll eventually work out what it is that makes us conscious - and that it won't turn out that neurons are unique or even particularly special - ie. that the artificial life is conscious in reality not just not-provably-not-conscious.

elasto wrote:As you keep adding neurons, you'll have different neural circuits that will compete with each other, and the winner will determine what we decide to do, what memory we recall, what association we see, what emotion surfaces, etc. (I heard this description of the human brain recently on a podcast, but I can't recall where at the moment.) When two different circuits of similar strength compete for control, the system becomes very sensitive to very small differences. In some cases, then sensitivity might be so great that quantum effects might bubble up to have a macro effect on our behavior. I don't recall anyone making this sort of discovery yet, but I don't think we can rule it out. My point is that to conclude that our brain is deterministic is premature.

I've read such studies too but from what I read they concluded quantum effects couldn't bubble up in that way - a neuron is too big and too hot an object even given its tiny tubes (I forget the name of them); But note that if the brain isn't deterministic then it's random - and in many ways that's even less comforting.

(And if the source of the randomness is a 'soul's choices' then the system as a whole (brain+soul) is back to being deterministic again - you choose to do only that which you choose to do - you could not have chosen to do something you did not choose to do. Like I say, determinism doesn't mean we don't do what we want - it's how we end up doing what we want - so it shouldn't be that disquieting a model! :D)

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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby Technical Ben » Mon Oct 15, 2012 11:04 am UTC

elasto wrote:
Spoiler:
guenther wrote:
elasto wrote:I find it extremely hard to see how a computer program perfectly emulating the neurons of a human brain (say my brain) wouldn't be conscious, and yet at the same time it would clearly be deterministic, therefore I conclude that I too am deterministic.

It may be that we can't perfectly emulate the human brain with a deterministic computer. For example, the system may rely on random events, and if we model this with pseudo-random numbers, this may have some weird side effects that breaks the perfect emulation.

My statement was a shorthand. Randomness is worse than determinism - it means that your choices are without reason - which is worse than being determined but with good reason.
As far as I can see, we don't get to decide what is "worse" with the laws of physics, it just is what it is. So here, if it is random, tough. But that's not the point, the point is we do not know. Thus we use a definition that shows that, one labeled "free". This is required for systems we do not have enough confidence in. If we had enough confidence, we'd call them determined. If your asking a person or computer a question, you don't know the answer, else you'd not ask the question!
Anyhow, you can have true randomness in a computer if that's required, you just can't do it purely in software - you have to add in a hardware device. (Although some pseudo-random algorithms pass randomness tests so well it's hard for me to imagine why they'd fail to suffice, but I guess it's theoretically possible.)
There is no such thing as software separate from a physical mechanism to run it. Unless you evoke metaphysical theories! Which is what we are not going to do. So, as your software runs in a physical universe, it cannot be considered determined, as our physical universe is also provable to be non-determined (see QM as proof).
Spoiler:
This wouldn't preclude a fully deterministic system from being well described as conscious, but it would mean a limit to how well we can emulate the human brain. By the way, I think our application of the term "conscious" to an artificial intelligence will be a matter of definition, not discovery. Or in other words, it will be the result of us deciding that the new entity is sufficiently aware (or whatever the criteria) that "conscious" becomes a good abstraction for how it behaves.

I agree that if a computer program behaves in a way indistinguishable from a conscious person we might as well presume it's conscious as a useful working model, but my hunch is we'll eventually work out what it is that makes us conscious - and that it won't turn out that neurons are unique or even particularly special - ie. that the artificial life is conscious in reality not just not-provably-not-conscious.
This seems like pure supposition. Our gut feeling is not much help here.
Spoiler:
elasto wrote:As you keep adding neurons, you'll have different neural circuits that will compete with each other, and the winner will determine what we decide to do, what memory we recall, what association we see, what emotion surfaces, etc. (I heard this description of the human brain recently on a podcast, but I can't recall where at the moment.) When two different circuits of similar strength compete for control, the system becomes very sensitive to very small differences. In some cases, then sensitivity might be so great that quantum effects might bubble up to have a macro effect on our behavior. I don't recall anyone making this sort of discovery yet, but I don't think we can rule it out. My point is that to conclude that our brain is deterministic is premature.

I've read such studies too but from what I read they concluded quantum effects couldn't bubble up in that way - a neuron is too big and too hot an object even given its tiny tubes (I forget the name of them); But note that if the brain isn't deterministic then it's random - and in many ways that's even less comforting.
Spoiler:
(And if the source of the randomness is a 'soul's choices' then the system as a whole (brain+soul) is back to being deterministic again - you choose to do only that which you choose to do - you could not have chosen to do something you did not choose to do. Like I say, determinism doesn't mean we don't do what we want - it's how we end up doing what we want - so it shouldn't be that disquieting a model! :D)

I'm still interested in how my example of hardware failure applies. Is it proven that a hardware failure cannot be influenced by a QM effect?

Another more pertinent point is, as said above, by providing a choice, we assume an ability to freely to reply. If your PC is 100% deterministic (they are not, we input random data all the time, but let's assume), do you give it choices? No, you make observations. We don't "ask my PC what my documents folder contains", we "observe what is in my documents folder". The PC had no choice, we did not ask it to make one, we merely observed it.

Now, if we do give it a choice, it's given separate from "us". Our PC would choose based on a system free from ourselves. It would not have "free will" as we do not yet build computers with "will". It would have "free choices" though. The freedom is relative, relative to us. If we had a computer made by a different person, we had not observed the computers details, and asked it "what is your programming", the answer would be "I was programmed free from your influence", it's influenced by it's programming, not us.

Likewise, is free will an observation of an action free from external influence? Does it need to be free from the entire universe? Does it need to be free from the laws of physics? I'd say no. It only has to express freedom within it's own boundaries.

Is freedom random or deterministic? AFAIK freedom is acting with both of these things.
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Re: Definition of Free Will

Postby The Great Hippo » Mon Oct 15, 2012 2:24 pm UTC

guenther wrote:What's non-deterministic about F=ma or the law of universal gravitation? If you know two objects, and know precisely where they are and what they're mass is, then the model will precisely predict the attractive force between them, the acceleration they experience, the path they take towards each other, and the time at which they collide.
I might just be failing at definitions here, but those only 'simulate' a deterministic universe--they may be deterministic, but we don't actually know, because we can't know with absolute precision where they are, what their mass is, and what the attractive force between them is.

As you shrink the scale down to the fundamental granularity of reality as we know it, this limitation becomes more and more clear. As our instruments become more precise, we discover just how difficult it really is to create truly precise models.
gunther wrote:Also, you keep using the word "determinable", so maybe we're talking about different things. I'm talking about determinism, and much of our scientific models are deterministic. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, all of classical physics (which includes relativity) is deterministic. It's quantum theory that adds in fundamentally non-deterministic elements to the model. And I'm no expert here, as I said before, but I haven't heard anyone in the field share your confidence that one day we'll arrive at an underlying deterministic QT model. I'm not ruing out this possibility, but my point is that clearly we don't always appear to be in a deterministic universe. That's really the main thing I'm objecting to.
I don't have confidence that we will; I just don't see any reason to assume that we won't. Science is never satisfied with the answer it currently has. Science always approximates, and it always struggles to make those approximations better. I see no reason to assume that--so long as the precision of our approximations is not absolute--science won't continue to try and improve them. An error in our approximation's power to measure something, no matter how small, tells us that we aren't finished. It tells us that we can do better. So long as there are errors, science will strive to find ways to overcome them.

If a scientific model stops striving to be determinable--if it becomes purely predictable--it inherently accepts that there are some things it cannot know. Which might be true; but science isn't going to stop trying to know the unknowable, and it's a fine line between 'unknowable' and 'just really darn hard to know'. The latter might be the case, and the latter is what science must assume to proceed.


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